BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Parole Board has unanimously recommended commuting the sentence of convicted child molester Gerald ``Tooky'' Amirault, who has long maintained his innocence in the Fells Acres child abuse case.
Amirault, who has served 15 years of a 30- to 40-year sentence, made voices of the victims are heard." the commutation request in April 2000 and appeared at a parole board hearing in September.
The recommendation now goes to acting Gov. Jane Swift.
"The governor along with her legal counsel will review the decision, give it careful consideration and then make a decision when she is ready to do so," Swift spokesman Jason Kauppi said.
If Swift agrees to release Amirault, the Governor's Council must then vote on whether to go along with the decision.
Patti Amirault, Gerald Amirault's wife of nearly 24 years, ran through a shopping mall to her car when she got the news from her son on her cellular phone.
"I spoke with him half an hour ago. He's ecstatic," she said of her husband's reaction to the decision. "It's been very difficult for 16 years ... today is incredibly rewarding to us."
Family members, calling the case "a roller coaster," know their fight is far from over.
"We do know we have a long way to go," said Gerrilyn Amirault, 22.
Amirault's attorney, James Sultan, urged Swift and the Governor's Council to adopt the parole board's recommendation promptly.
The board consists of three former prosecutors, two former state troopers and a former probation officer. "Frankly, there is not a bleeding heart in the bunch," he said.
At the September board appearance, Amirault said he was sentenced unfairly compared to his co-defendents, his mother and his sister, and others convicted of similar offenses.
The parole board agreed that Amirault had "demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that his further incarceration would constitute gross unfairness."
The parole board was not allowed to revisit the question of Amirault's guilt in rendering an opinion, but only considered whether he has improved himself in prison and whether his sentence was unfair.
"It must be acknowledged, however, that it is clearly a matter of public knowledge that, at the minimum, real and substantial doubt exists concerning petitioner's conviction," the board wrote.
Prosecutors maintained that about 40 children between the ages of 2 and 4 told the truth when they described being tied to trees, sexually penetrated with knives and tortured by a "bad clown" in a "secret room."
No corroborating physical evidence supported the allegations.
Similar flaws in procedures, along with a lack of physical evidence to corroborate extraordinary allegations of abuse, led to other child abuse convictions being discredited elsewhere in the nation, the board wrote.
Amirault was convicted in 1986 of molesting and raping eight children at his family's day care center in Malden. His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial.
The Amiraults always insisted they were innocent, the victims of a sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s and questionable testimony from child witnesses.
A spokesman for the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office expressed disappointment at Friday's decision.
"We believe the sentence imposed at trial was fair and appropriate," Anson Kaye said.
The district attorney's office and some of those Gerald Amirault was convicted of assaulting are fighting his release.
LeFave received an 8- to 20-year sentence. She was released in 1995 while her appeals were pending, and prosecutors did not object when her sentence was reduced in 1999 to the 8 1/2 years she had already served.
Violet Amirault was also released in 1995. She died two years later.
to return home to his wife and three children in Malden if released.
product producer, H.P. Hood, Inc., has offered him a full-time job as a
shipper, and a licensed clinical psychologist has agreed to treat him.
Amirault said he plans to earn a college degree.
UPDATE: October 17, 2003
Parole announced for Gerald Amirault
The Parole Board voted 3-0 for parole. Participants were Joyce Hooley, John P. Kivlan, and Daniel M. Dewey. Kivlan and Dewey had earlier voted for release at the 2001 Board of Pardons hearing; Hooley was not on the Board at that time.
The Parole Board did not mention Amirault's guilt or innocence; instead they noted that he was a good parole risk, with a good prison record, and strong family and community support.
The release would not necessarily happen before April 2004. The prosecuting DA, Martha Coakley, has six months to decide whether to ask that Gerald Amirault be indefinitely committed as a "dangerous sex offender" to a prison psychiatric facility.
Some DAs automatically file "dangerous sex offender" requests when prisoners convicted of sex assaults are released, but DA Coakley's office has been more selective. She has no reason to love the Amirault defenders, but may wish to cut her losses. An attempt to keep Gerald Amirault locked up would require a court hearing; even if the judge did not believe Amirault was innocent (as many do), he might still decide there was no reason to believe Amirault would offend 17 years later, the legal standard for commitment. (In the 2001 Board of Pardons hearing, it was noted that Amirault did not commit any offenses while out on bail before his 1986 trial.)